Sunday, 18 May 2014

When I was about 12, my most treasured possession was my little blow-up dinghy.  A give-away from a mosquito spray company, it transported me across the coral reef of the Caribbean in front of my house to the deep azure waters beyond.  In it, I could avoid the treacherous sharp coral, and more importantly, the black, spiny sea-urchins.  If you were unlucky or clumsy enough to tread on one, the black needles would poison before you could call for help and you would die a hideously painful, though mercifully swift, death.

I would skim across the reef, stiff as a board, with my toes pointed into the front, paddling furiously to keep as much of the bottom flat as possible.  My snorkel and mask were permanently welded to my head.

It was a strange song I heard diving out from the reef; the tuneful froth from my mouth as I dove, the scratching hiss of sand and broken shell moving rhythmically far below me, the squeak and hum in my ears as I sank deep below the water.

I took my little plastic oar with me to poke about and move things - we were not so ecologically careful in those days.  Or perhaps it was the innocent cruelty of childhood that led me to shove my oar, quite literally, into a dark hole.

It stuck and I pulled hard, my flippered feet swelling me urgently back and forth.  My breath blew like thunder.  It came free with a brown thing attached - I thought it seaweed, and brushed at it with annoyance.  It was the rubbery, prehistoric spiral of an octopus that followed angrily out and we hung eye to eye in the turquoise water as I realised what it was.  I had already lost an oar to casual beach thieves so my priority was to keep this one.

Lucky for me, the beast cared more about his privacy and huffily billowed back into the gloom, while I shot, bubbles rattling from my open mouth, back to the surface.

This week, I have written off a car, celebrated a birthday and negotiated a sticky, tricky conversation.

I'm whizzing back up to the sun now.  I think I've still got an oar about me.  And I know the urchins will only sting, not kill.

What is to be seen

Saturday, 10 May 2014

With all the new schools, new countries and new mathematical systems, I am mathematically illiterate.  I thought, fleetingly, that geometry was beautiful and precise and that algebra was essentially solving puzzles, but the majority of it was hieroglyphics to me.  With fingers, I can do any sum under twenty.  Sixty if the bots are at home and I can be arsed to take my wellies off.

I ended up doing Maths Studies for Baccalaureate - it is essentially colouring in tessellations and predicting whether you'll get an ace of hearts.  One of the few things I remember is truth tables - or was it logic?  The two were sadly not always synonymous in my chaotic school life.

Either way, I rather loved the spare, clear elegance of if and then.  If I get 39 points then I can escape to University.  If I hide my lighter up my sleeve, then I can have a sly fag before drama.   If I read Walden to the end without stabbing myself, then I will discover, allegorically, the secret of solitary self-reliance.

Poor Rose is mathematically blessed and will be doing GCSE a year early.  This weekend, as a sensible antidote to teenage hyperbole and contagious hysteria, school has taken her group far away to a forest, in tents, with three tons of pasta each and a squirty bottle of golden syrup.

Last night it threw down buckets and today is blowing wild and sunny; that fabulous, illogical weather that polka-dots the pavements with blossom confetti and induces madness with jangling new leaves and gusts of blinding, sunlit rain.

They will be soaking and starving when they get back; they have no phones, only maps and notebooks. They have to record fauna and count wild ponies and species of meadow-flower.  Thoreau would approve.

Thank heaven she's good at maths; it would be a nightmare removing those great sodden boots every time she got to eleven.

Five things that make you crazy

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Sit still.  
Ten more minutes of this 
while we pipe in a bit of Clinton Ford 
and you'll be right as rain and 
back running the country in no time.

This month's topic for BIO made me panic a little bit - how to distill those years of lunacy and the subsequent mending into only five things.

I have experienced both depression and mania and while I can't claim the former was any fun, the latter can be helpful. Set up a business in an afternoon, write a dissertation in days, renovate a house single-handedly.

But it's bloody tiring being bonkers, and so, after many many years of talking and reading and crying and rocking in corners and soul-searching and all the tediously predictable things people do in the search for peace of mind, and which, au fond, are only of interest to oneself, here are my top five ways to shred your sanity.

1. Being surrounded by unhealthy people
Especially if you are of a bent to mend and they are of a bent to drag along self-indulgent and self-inflicted drama.  Look closely - is it really such bad, bad luck all the time?  And is it really your problem or do you want to be needed too much?   Either way, when the curtain goes up on another act, politely excuse yourself and find a bathroom to clean.

2. Not getting enough sleep or exercise
Everything looks worse when you're exhausted and unfit.  Get out of your house and walk about; at the very least you can look for interesting new places to be glum in.  I guarantee you will feel marginally less so by the end of a brisk walk.

3. Eating crap processed pretend food
Make yourself soup.  Everyone can manage that.  Nourish yourself, body and soul.  If you eat rubbish, it gives you the absolute mean reds.  And its horribly inelegant.

4. Pleasing everyone else before yourself
I find martyrdom desperately unattractive.  I also find many martyrs want far too much recognition for their sacrifices than real-life saints would ever expect.  They are also often passive aggressive nightmares.  And frequently lack direction and purpose, so use the excuse of putting other needs first to mask this.  As long as you are not unkind or neglectful, following your own path will help keep you off the meths.

5. Spending time in the wrong place - mentally, emotionally, physically
Tough as hell to admit you're not where you should be, and often a nightmare to extricate, but really listen to your instincts.  You won't be the first person to have made a mistake. And anyone who judges you for it should be sent immediately to Coventry for a long long time.

Don't go too far though, there's a little bit of madness in all creative people.